OC Sheriff’s Department delivers Christmas cheer and Santa on Make-A-Wish harbor cruise

By Daniel Langhorne

Families invited to the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s 17th annual Christmas Harbor Cruise on Dec. 10 gazed at light-festooned Newport Bay homes aboard the 140-foot yacht Eternity when a red Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol boat emerged from the darkness embarked with a special passenger.

“It’s Santa!” erupted excited youngsters and parents as an OC Sheriff’s Department helicopter circling above trained its spotlight on the patrol boat and blared its siren to announce the arrival of Saint Nick.

OCSD Deputies A. Jeung, left, N. Colonelli and Jay Wasserman help kids in wheelchairs on board the Eternity at the start of the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, co-hosted 254 family members with Orange County Sheriff’s deputies and reserve deputies abroad the Electra Cruises yacht. Crew members donated their time to serve a dinner of chicken nuggets, hot dogs, French fries, and macaroni and cheese.

Assistant Sheriff Bob Peterson was among the OCSD staff who watched families tell Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas, take a photo with him, and receive Christmas presents from donors to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Four-year-old Sadie Rahall of Laguna Beach, left, with her sister Rylie, 9, and OCSD Harbor Patrol Deputies Greg Eisenman, left, and Blaze Bhence enjoy themselves at the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“You see the gratefulness and joy come out of a kid and no matter what ailments they’re experiencing this gives them a moment of relaxation to enjoy the season,” Peterson said. “They’re getting gifts from Santa. They’re giving us the gift of perspective.”

After telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas, the children tore into their wrapped gifts, revealing toys such as a flying alien sphere drone, a Connect 4 board game, a caterpillar bulldozer, and a plastic ice cream parlor.

Russ McCormick, left, and his wife, Stephanie, president and CEO of Make-a-Wish, welcomes the kids as they board the ship Eternity.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Stephanie McCormick, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish of Orange County and the Inland Empire, said the Harbor Cruise was the first time many of the children have been on a boat. She added that the cruise, which is her organization’s most popular event, wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Electra Cruises staff members who donate their time.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department helps Make-A-Wish host a similar cruise every year on the Fourth of July.

Four-year-old Audrina Revelez of Chino Hills receives a face painting from artist Vivian Morales of Los Angeles during the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Make-A-Wish is able to match many of its sick children and their siblings with presents because of the generosity of its donors. For example, one board member promised to shave his head if the employees at his bank donated 400 board games to Make-A-Wish. They ultimately contributed 925 board games.

“What I hear from parents is extreme gratitude,” McCormick said. “Some of these parents don’t have the means to provide a lot of fun for their kids outside of one gift.”

Electra Cruises’ Eternity is all decked out in Christmas decorations for the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The only details of the Harbor Cruise that Erica Rahall of Laguna Beach told her daughters Sadie, 4, and Rylie, 9, were that they were invited on a boat ride and there would be a surprise on board. Rylie is living with Ataxia-Telangiectasia, a genetic neurological disorder that degenerates muscle control and creates immune system deficiencies.

“Our favorite part has been looking out the windows and seeing all the boats and lights,” she said.

OCSD deputies Jay Wasserman, left, and Greg Eisenman help Make-a-Wish kids in wheelchairs on board the Eternity at the start of the cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

When Santa Claus arrived on the OC Sheriff Department Harbor Patrol boat, Rahall’s daughters yelled, “That’s Santa! That’s Santa! Why does he have a boat?”

Reserve Deputy Jay Wasserman of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, who has helped coordinate the Harbor Cruise for years, smiled as the Wish Kids lined up with their family members to meet Santa Claus.

“It gives the children and families such an escape from their doctor visits and medication,” Wasserman said.

Natasha Navaro, 9, of San Diego, receives a free dinner that includes chicken, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and fries, from Electra Cruises employees who all volunteered their time.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Santa pays a visit half way through the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise on board an OCSD Harbor Patrol boat.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

OCSD deputies Jay Wasserman, left, and Greg Eisenman help Santa as he boards the Eternity from a Harbor Patrol boat.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Stephanie McCormick, president and CEO of Make-a-Wish, is all smiles as she welcomes Santa on board the Eternity. 
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Cruise entertainer Max Werderman is surrounded by kids during the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

OCSD Lt. Christopher Corn, left, and Assistant Sheriff and soon-to-be Undersheriff Bob Peterson with Santa during the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Helpers with the Make-a-Wish Newport Harbor holiday cruise gather with Santa, including OCSD Harbor Patrol Dep. Blaze Bhence, OCSD Lt. Christopher Corn, Dep. Jay Wasserman, Assistant Sheriff Bob Peterson and Make-a-Wish President and CEO Stephanie McCormick.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Cruise entertainers Max Werderman, left, and Jake Koeppl dance with the kids to the Cupid Shuffle during the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Four-year-old Natalia Doing of Camp Pendleton gets a high-five from OCSD Harbor Patrol Deputy Greg Eisenman.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

OCSD Harbor Patrol Deputies Greg Eisenman, left, and Blaze Bhence clown around with cruise entertainer Max Werderman.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Eleven-year-old Gary gets a plate full of food from Vanessa of Electra Cruises during the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise. The employees volunteered their time and the cruise company provided the boat and the free dinner for the kids and their families.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

OCSD Harbor Patrol Deputies Blaze Bhence, left, and Greg Eisenman gather with Santa, Make-a-Wish President and CEO Stephanie McCormick, and others during the Make-a-Wish Christmas Harbor Cruise.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge